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15 December 2015 @ 02:10 pm
[Rant] You Don't Owe Anyone Your Queer Story  
So, today over lunch I decided to read some stuff that wasn't mathematical economics, just to sort of remember there are other words out there.

Annnnnd so I read this Ask Bear column, and then I stewed for a while, and then I wrote this rushed, angry rant before I went back to my mathematical economics.

The letter in that column comes from a questioning 22 year old who is potentially starting down that "hang on, am I -- queer?" path that a lot of us have walked. I've walked it myself! It is scenic and has many twists and turns. The letter writer is in a very traditional and appropriate place for starting on that path: he (I'm assuming) has many questions and is not sure what comes next or what he has to do to be a good possibly queer person.

Bear's response, summarized: you can absolutely be queer, sounds like you might be, and oh, by the way, before you explore that queer identity at all, you'd better come out. To everyone. You have to, to be a good human.

I really wanted to believe Bear didn't tell a questioning 22 year old that he had to come out of the closet before he is allowed to see if he might potentially be queer. But I tweeted my rage (as is the custom of my people), and several Twitter friends got the same read from it, so I just want to remind everyone of something important.

No one can tell you that you have to come out. Not if they're queer, not if they're out, not if they're an activist, not if they are the Fairy Queen of the Queer Isles (my dream job!), never. (The one exception to this: your partner(s) in queerness get a say. But even they don't get to issue a fiat like Bear did in this letter.)

There are three major reasons for this.
  1. Coming out is a dangerous endeavor for many people in this world. And you are the best evaluator of your physical, emotional, and social safety. I think Bear may just have forgotten, since he apparently lives in a polytransqueer wonderland, that coming out can be risky. That his letter writer may have to face familial rejection, social rejection, harassment, homelessness, abuse -- that, in short, a lot of bad things might happen to the LW if he comes out. (Queer folks struggling with this issue, take heart: it is apparently entirely possible to get to a place in your life where you can forget this!) Bear may also have forgotten that those same things may also happen to the dude LW is into, and that they may together choose to be closeted for safety reasons, and that is absolutely fine. (It isn't fine that people have to make that choice, of course, but blaming people for picking the best of a number of bad options is classic oppressor bullshit, and I'm embarrassed to see any of my fellow queers doing it.)

  2. Coming out is a process, and the LW is at the very beginning of it. (People can be at the very beginning at any point in their lives. They can go back to the beginning at any point in their lives. And they can spend as long as they need to there. This is not some sort of board game, folks, where you can just pass go and collect your Queer Person ID.) Bear ordered him to go straight from starting college to taking the Bar Exam, without going through any of the intervening bits. But those bits are important, and they make you ready for the later bits, and only you, the queer person, know how you're doing in the process, or what you're ready for right now.

  3. You don't owe anyone your story. Let me repeat that, slightly louder: you don't owe anyone your story. Bear strongly implies that his questioning letter writer should come out because social justice. And, no, that is not a burden queer folks have to bear; we do not have to build a bridge to our own equality with our bare hands using bricks made out of our lives, our bodies, and our hearts. (Unless, of course, we choose to. Many of us make that choice, in big ways and small. But it's our choice to do that.)

    Many, many of our straight allies say the same thing in other words. For example, they say that gay people who come out are heroes, and gay people who make choices other than absolute and total openness are weak, and that is bullshit, and it's extremely harmful bullshit. You are not required to come out to Make the World Safe for Queers, you are not required to come out to Be a Good Queer, you are not required to come out for any reason at all ever except that you want to and are ready to. Your story is yours. You tell it how you want to, when you want to, if you want to
So, Bear's Letter Writer, if you're out there, here is some alternate advice from a different middle-aged queer who has come out a whole, whole, whole bunch:

Letter Writer, you can do whatever you want to with your guy (provided he consents, of course), with whatever level of disclosure you both agree on. It's important to be honest with him about where you are with respect to coming out, whether that is "I will actually have a panic attack if you touch me in public" or "I am totally okay with our friends knowing, but I cannot face having some kind of formal announcement right now" or "let's tell everyone including our extremely homophobic extended family members and then POST LOTS OF TOPLESS MAKING OUT PHOTOS ON FACEBOOK HA HA HA." (You may be in a different place than any of these, or experiencing a combination of all three. That's normal.) Then it's important to listen to what he says about where he is. If there's a big difference -- if you're at panic attacks and he's at Facebook, say -- then be aware that that is going to be an issue in your relationship, and be prepared to work on it.

Your queer journey is belongs to you, Letter Writer. You and those you choose to share it with are the only people who get to say how it goes, and that includes coming out, if you decide to do that. Speaking as a supportive bystander, though, I hope your queer journey is awesome. Good luck!

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
Tags: [rant]
ride_4ever (or Ride_Forever: seen it both ways): Fraser & RayK back you upride_4ever on December 15th, 2015 10:24 pm (UTC)
Your right-on post is so right-on!

Edited at 2015-12-15 10:25 pm (UTC)
A pink plastic crypt that fits in your palmfiveforsilver on December 15th, 2015 11:03 pm (UTC)
That reminds of this (white, almost certainly cis and straight) man I heard talk once who said that he saw no reason why anybody wouldn't be out as atheist, anywhere, ever (he probably just meant in the US, but even so...). Or that tumblr post about asking everyone, in every situation, for their preferred pronouns. It would be nice if the world worked like that, but we live in reality, where things like that can be anything from awkward and confusing to actively dangerous.
Shineshinetheway on December 15th, 2015 11:05 pm (UTC)
I'd never heard of Bear but his response to the question made my skin crawl. I'm glad you wrote this.
Moony McMoonsome: Moonmoththe_moonmoth on December 16th, 2015 02:08 am (UTC)
Merlin Missy: Whut? (Kirk)mtgat on December 16th, 2015 02:43 am (UTC)
There is a reason you remain one of my favorite people.
that_which: stumpthat_which on December 16th, 2015 08:08 pm (UTC)
I don't begrudge Bear his privileged background, and good for him choosing vocal advocacy. But he started this out implicitly invalidating all letter writer's experiences up to this point because they were formed in an environment where society was imposing a one-size-fits-all view of human sexuality and where we as individuals should and do fit into it, and then. Um. Yeah.

I guess there are symptoms of privilege it's harder to walk away from than others.
lexstar29 on December 18th, 2015 12:11 pm (UTC)
You put so eloquently how I felt when I read this. His answer made me so very angry. How dare he tell someone at that first gentle stage of awakening, at a time where they don't yet even know for sure themselves how they feel, that they need to come out to everyone.

I really hope that the letter writer doesn't feel pressured by this into doing anything they are not ready for.